Drellich: Payroll shouldn't keep Cora from Manager of the Year talk

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BOSTON — The 2018 Red Sox might be special enough to make the voters overlook Cinderella.

The Manager of the Year award often plays out as the Surprise Team of the Year award: an acknowledgment of unexpected small- to mid-market success. Why, how did that little team push so far beyond preseason expectations? The guidance of the trusty skipper, undoubtedly.

Alex Cora could prove the exception.

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If the rejuvenated Sox can break the franchise record of 105 wins in the first season after known clubhouse turmoil, Cora may be looked at as more than the manager of the biggest payroll in baseball. The 42-year-old's status as a rookie can only help, too.

Manager of the Year also usually plays out as a narrative award. The Baseball Writers Association of America voters tend to look at the story of a team’s season (voting is conducted before the postseason, remember) rather than pure wins and losses. Numbers are not usually the driving force as they are in, say, the Cy Young voting. (Hello, Chris Sale.)

Famously, Terry Francona never won Manager of the Year in his time with the Red Sox. He’s won it twice with the Indians, in 2013 and 2016. The 2004 winner in the American League? Buck Showalter, then of the Texas Rangers.

Showalter must have watched with jealousy as Cora’s Red Sox stomped the Orioles this weekend, completing a four-game sweep Sunday afternoon. The Sox, at 85-35, could make a record at the major league record for wins, 116.

But even 106 wins could overpower a brewing feel-good story like the Oakland Athletics, who forever cry poor and then contend as Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin work their magic. 

The powerhouse Sox also could make voters overlook another manager whose team may grab a Wild Card spot, Scott Servais of the Seattle Mariners. 

The M’s haven’t made the playoffs since they matched the major league record with 116 wins in 2001. Lou Piniella of the Mariners won the award that year.

Piniella did it with a Mariners team that had just lost three Hall of Fame-caliber talents in recent years: Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. They also gained one, in Ichiro Suzuki.

But even the biggest markets can be rewarded for wagons.

Joe Torre won Manager of the Year twice: once in 1996, when the Yankees were not actually preordained to win everything, and then again in 1998, when the Yanks won 114 games.

In short: on the rare occasion a regular-season team is so much better than everyone else, the underdog can be pushed aside in voting season.

The last Sox manager to win the award was Jimy Williams, back in 1999. Williams had Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, Cora has Sale and Mookie Betts — plus, J.D. Martinez.

The Sox are extremely talented. How much credit goes to Cora or any manager can be sliced a thousand ways. But Cora-as-transformational-figure is one of the easiest narratives to buy into. 

Given the improvement the Sox have shown in 2018 and the known unhappiness that existed at the end of John Farrell’s tenure in Boston, there's a correlation between this year’s success and an improved atmosphere.

Managing a gigantic payroll and a combustible bunch in a spotlight city is its own challenge, even if one not typically appreciated by the voters. This year, Cora could prove the exception.

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